G8 sets Iran deadline for nuclear talks
L'AQUILA, Italy (Reuters) - Group of Eight major powers will give Iran until September to accept negotiations over its nuclear ambitions or else face tougher sanctions, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Wednesday.
Upping the stakes in a dispute with Tehran, Sarkozy said the powers would review the situation at a G20 meeting of developed and developing countries in Pittsburgh on September 24 and 25.
"If there is no progress by then we will have to take decisions," said Sarkozy after discussions with G8 partners that wrapped up the first day of their annual summit.
Western countries believe Iran is trying to build an atomic bomb. Tehran says it wants to master nuclear technology to generate electricity and has rejected all overtures for talks.
The United States and Canada said the world's main industrialized nations were growing increasingly impatient.
"All G8 nations are united. There is a strong consensus at the table that unless things change soon, there will be further action," said Canadian spokesman Dimitri Soudas.
However, Sarkozy made clear Russia was still dragging its feet over the issue and had pushed for more time before considering a fresh round of sanctions.
"We made an effort to agree not to strengthen sanctions straightaway in order to bring everyone on board. The more reserved amongst us agreed that Pittsburgh was the time for decisions," said Sarkozy.
In a separate statement, the G8 said it was committed to finding a diplomatic solution to Iran's nuclear program.
"We sincerely hope that Iran will seize this opportunity to give diplomacy a chance," the statement said.
It deplored the violence in Iran following last month's disputed presidential election and said the arrests of journalists and foreigners were "unacceptable."
Underscoring G8 concern over nuclear proliferation, the world power leaders urged a quick start to talks on a treaty banning production of nuclear bomb-making materials and called on all states to observe a moratorium on nuclear explosions.
They confirmed Washington would host a nuclear security summit in March, White House officials said.
"This is another important piece of the non-proliferation agenda that (President Barack Obama) has put forward," White House adviser Mark Lippert said.
Obama has laid out a vision of a world without nuclear arms and this week agreed with Russia to cut respective stockpiles.
Wednesday's G8 statement condemned missile tests in North Korea, saying they were a danger to peace and stability.
"We urge (North Korea) to refrain from further violations of relevant Security Council resolutions and to engage in dialogue and cooperation," the statement said.
The isolated communist state fired seven missiles into the Sea of Japan on July 4 and set off a nuclear test on May 25 in an act of defiance against Washington and its allies.
Turning to the Middle East, the G8 reiterated calls for a swift resumption of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians over the creation of two separate states.
"We also call for the immediate opening of crossings for the flow of humanitarian aid, commercial goods and persons to and from Gaza, in a manner that respects Israel's security," the statement said.
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